Is Online Church Enough?
Online church services are a great resource — make sure they don’t become your only community
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Balancing Online and Physical Church
My husband and I found a great church. This place has excellent, Bible-based teaching, opportunities to serve, with a young, growing membership. The church offers multiple service times and great music. Unfortunately, we ended up moving. “No problem”, we both thought. “We can just go online and watch the services. At least that way we can still get great teaching while we look for a church in our new town.”
Here’s what we discovered. Finding a church can be hard! Especially when the one you attended before was so great. Some weeks it was easy to say, “let’s just watch online today.” That counts, right?
No matter where you live, you have to decide what to do about church and community, both online and in-person. The reality today is the online church community has so much to offer and may feel like an easier place to fit in. Many people are a part of multiple communities, online and offline. How do you balance them? Can one substitute for the other?
The purpose of going to church
Notice I didn’t say “the purpose of church” because ‘church’ is not a physical place. the church is made up of people who follow Jesus. As Christians, we work together as “the church” to share the love of Jesus with others. Acts 2:42 provides some of the reasons for church. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
You can do many of the same things online and offline. You can share Jesus’ love, learn about Jesus, and read the Bible. With so many sermons and studies online, it is easy to find just about any material you need to help you grow spiritually. Online church allows you to build community fellowship globally and expand your perspective, while your local church may be limiting your connections to people who are just like you. So why go to a physical church rather than bonding and worshipping only in an online community? Physical touch, serving and gathering are just three reasons.
Britain recently appointed its first ‘minister for loneliness’ acknowledging how isolated many people have become. Part of that isolation is not simply mental loneliness but a lack of connection physically, too. I remember my mom saying several years after my father died that one of the hardest things she faced was not having daily physical contact with anyone – hugging, a touch on the hand, and just close proximity to another person in the room. There were those around Jesus who needed to hear His message in this way because there are people who are best wired to receive communication about love by physical touch. "And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.' And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, 'I will; be clean.' And immediately his leprosy was cleansed." (Matthew 8:2–3)
Going to church is a way to physically connect to followers of Jesus and remind ourselves that we are not just mental or spiritual beings but we exist together and have a common purpose.
Serving in your community
Sure, you can give money through your phone to help others – even those in your neighborhood. The community church makes it more personal. As the church opens its doors in times of disaster or through helping local families with specific needs, Jesus can shine through your face when you participate in service. James 1:27 tells us: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
We are here to gather with other believers in Christian fellowship, and a smartphone can never completely replace that. The term “church” in Greek (ekklesia) means a called assembly. In ancient times when a city called its people together for a certain purpose, this was always called an ekklesia. My husband and I once had a “Skype dinner” with some friends who had moved away. We just wanted to see their faces and eat together like we did when they lived near us. While it was fun, it wasn’t the same as being together.
Balancing your online church practices with your physical ones can be a challenge. Both have so much to offer, it can be tempting to replace one for the other. How you use those resources God provided in a balanced way is a decision you have to make. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15)
Pray this week:
Father, show me how to serve you. Lead me to more fully be a part of the church in all areas, through worship, teaching, giving, fellowship and prayer.
Do you struggle with balancing your life online and offline? Do you view your community church differently than online church?